TV Preview: Homeland | Fresh Meat | Love Me Do 62

Garlanded in critical praise and Emmy awards, after a first season which was an electrifying jolt to the tired spy thriller genre, Homeland has a lot to live up to.

by ANDREA MULLANEY

And it wouldn’t be surprising if it faltered, due to the very premise that made it so brilliant – is returning war hero turned secret Muslim Brody actually a terrorist or does Carrie the compulsive CIA woman just think so because she suffers from manic depression, or does she want him to be innocent because she might be falling for him, but then, he’s severely damaged either way, and does he even know what he is?

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Some of these questions were answered: Brody didn’t go through with his suicide bomb, so he’s at least not that kind of a terrorist, though he still has an agenda. And Carrie, by going through electro-convulsive therapy, both wiped out some of what she’d learned about him but also, perhaps, some of her doubts about her own sanity.

Series two starts slowly, with two big slabs of unlikeliness to swallow: the necessary contrivance to get Carrie back on the job she was sacked from and the startling rise of Brody’s political career (although, given recent Republican candidates, maybe his party are just desperate for someone who will at least not verbally self-destruct). There’s a misfiring attempt to rack up tension about Brody fiddling about in an office. But by the end of the episode, you can feel the pace starting to pick up again.

It’s hard to imagine anyone but Claire Danes playing Carrie now, conveying her rueful acceptance of her Lithium-flattened new life so well that you don’t realise how much she’s lost until one very brief flash of the old Carrie towards the end. Damien Lewis’ role is easier, but he uses his odd, shut-down face to great effect. The weak link, still, is Brody’s boring wife: Morena Baccarin is all haircut in this underwritten role: a dramatic revelation in this episode sees her pout as if her husband’s forgotten to put the bins out, AGAIN. Still there are signs she may turn into an ambitious social-climber, which would be something.

Perhaps Homeland won’t be quite the startling thrill-ride it was last year, but so far it’s still a clever and intense drama.

Student sitcom Fresh Meat doesn’t have quite as much to live up to as it returns, though its first year went down surprisingly well too, given its unpromising fish-in-a-barrel premise (six mismatched students share a house) and that much of it was built around professional posho Jack Whitehall who induces blind rage in some. But by the end of its run, it even managed to have JP’s forbidding father and Oregon’s beloved old horse both dying on the same night: something which could have been a horrible mistake amid the gross-out comedy, but was actually extraordinarily poignant.

I suspect that a large part, maybe even a majority, of its audience are actually those for whom their teenage years are but a memory. Not that younger viewers will not get the daft jokes, like try-hard Kingsley’s pathetic new attempt at ‘cool’ facial hair, or JP being blithely unaware that his old chum from public school is gay, or understand the horror of the flatmates now having to share with someone not on their social wavelength. Perhaps you have to have a bit of distance to fully appreciate the poignancy of these inept, inexperienced youngsters, who are stereotypes not just because they’re in a sitcom, but because in their sincere yearning for self-definition they’re almost stereotyping themselves.

It may be that the essential nature of sitcoms, where characters basically don’t change, will end up clashing with the fundamental nature of Fresh Meat’s setting, which implies growth. Discuss, as the essay questions used to say.

Two programmes about The Beatles this week also touch on growing up. The fascinating Arena documentary, Magical Mystery Tour Revisited, shows how their 1967 TV movie baffled and even angered part of the country, settling down on Boxing Day to watch what they assumed would be a fun romp like Help! and finding instead drug-fuelled, indulgent, free-wheeling surrealist art, which pointed the way their music was going. The critics’ responses at the time reveal as much about how the late 60s opened up a cultural divide as about the film itself.

But a mere five years before, the boys who appear in an archive clip in Love Me Do 62 are almost comically conventional as they discuss how long their careers might last, carefully trying not to appear arrogant by assuming they might get as much as four years out of it. Ringo endearingly, envisaged owning a chain of ladies’ hairdressing shops in the north-west.

Love Me Do was their first hit, though maybe it wasn’t inevitable: DJ Bob Harris demonstrates the original recorded version, a pedestrian plodder, before replacing it with the faster, punchier single. Even now he is unable to stop tapping along. While there’s little new for Beatles fanatics, it’s a great glimpse into the band, their music and their decade.

• Homeland, Tomorrow, Channel 4, 9pm

• Fresh Meat, Tuesday, Channel 4, 10pm

• Arena: Magical Mystery Tour Revisited, Today, BBC2, 9:45pm

• Love Me do 62, Tomorrow, BBC 4, 10pm